May 2012 Archives
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12:24 a.m.'Real world' will have to wait for Helgren
Jordan Helgren's summer schedule suddenly looks a little different.
Just a week removed from receiving her diploma, the retailing major is set to begin a summer internship in Milwaukee this week.
Turns out she'll already be asking for some time off.
Thanks to her best effort in more than three years, the senior earned her first-ever NCAA championships berth with a 12th-place finish in the triple jump Saturday at the 2012 NCAA West Preliminary Round.
Her season-best leap of 41 feet, 8 1/2 inches came on her first attempt of the competition. The mark, Helgren's best since a wind-aided 42-0 1/2 performance in 2009, stood up through an additional five rounds of jumps to earn her the NCAA berth that comes along with a top-12 finish.
"It was my first jump and usually that's my best one," Helgren said. "The one-and-done thing really has a meaning for me. It felt so good to hit that first one and give me some confidence.
"I'm just glad my number stayed up there."
The performance continued a late-season surge for Helgren, who's battled a nagging foot injury and even tweaked her jumping style during the season to compensate. An eighth-place showing at the Big Ten championships two weeks ago broke her string of five consecutive top-five finishes in conference competition.
"A month ago, I was in a rut, struggling, and I couldn't get out," Helgren said. "I switched legs in the triple jump halfway through the outdoor season and was really having a hard time, until Big Tens came. I switched back to the other leg and things went so much better.
"I'm not complaining about how things turned out."
Now, Helgren will be looking to clear her calendar June 6-9 for a trip to Des Moines, Iowa.
"This is absolutely incredible," Helgren said. "I coudln't wish for anything else. It's the cherry on top of my entire athletic career."
12:02 a.m.Ahmed takes step toward goal
It's understandable that Mohammed Ahmed's first move would be to the front. After all, that's where the Wisconsin junior spends most of his time.
It took a reminder from his coach that there was no need to do the heavy lifting in race that required only a top-12 finish in order to be considered a winner.
Assistant coach Mick Byrne's message was received, as Ahmed settled in and secured a third-place finish in his heat in 14 minutes, 7.45 seconds to secure a return trip to the NCAA outdoor championships.
Teammates Dan Chenoweth (14:19.32) and Maverick Darling (14:30.35) finished 15th and 17th overall, respectively.
"He said to relax," Ahmed said of Byrne's message. "I heard him on the frontstretch. He said, 'Relax, relax,' and I knew I didn't need to lead. So I just relaxed and let someone else lead and Cam Levins (of Southern Utah) was willing to do it.
"Whenever I could stretch it out a little bit, I pushed it, but it was a slow race and I was just waiting for that big move."
Ahmed covered the change in pace late in the race and finished on the heels of fellow Canadian Levins and runner-up Chris Kwiatkowski of Oregon.
"Just staying on my feet was the No. 1 thing in my head," Ahmed said. "I almost went down somewhere in the middle of the race. Just hold your position and don't let people push you around, don't fall and get ready for that move. That's what I was keeping alert for."
Now he turns his attention to achieving one of the few goals he's yet to fulfill as a Badger: winning an individual national title.
"I'm going to go out there and enjoy it," Ahmed said of the national meet. "It's a great experience, always fun, but I'm toward the end of my collegiate career and I came here to win an NCAA title.
"There's really good runners out there, but that's what I'm here for and that's what everyone races for, to win. I'm going to go out there, compete and give myself the best shot I have to win."
8:50 p.m.Finnerty fine in impressive 1500 meters win
Someone who has been left on the outside looking in each of the last two seasons, Rob Finnerty enjoyed the best view in the house Saturday.
The Wisconsin junior left the disappointment of years past -- as well as the competition -- in his dust with an impressive win in the quarterfinals of the 1500 meters at the 2012 NCAA West Preliminary Round.
Finnerty kicked down Arizona's Lawi Lalang over the final 100 meters to close out a run of 3:42.93, emerging as the top qualifier from the West Region for the upcoming NCAA outdoor championships.
It's the first national meet berth for Finnerty, who was 13th two years ago when the preliminary round competition was last held in Austin, Texas. The top 12 finishers advanced to the NCAA championships.
Last year, Finnerty endured another close call with a 15th-place finish in the opening-round meet.
"I think a big part of this meet is that, the last two years, I've been one of the first guys out," Finnerty said. "This time around, I just told myself that I'm going to run my own race and not screw around for 1200 meters and then try to kick.
"I've gained the confidence that I can win running races how I want to race them, rather than running somebody else's race."
Just as he did in the first round Thursday, Finnerty helped set the tone for the race -- rather than allowing himself to be dictated by it. He led early before tucking in behind Lalang and allowing him to break the stiff breeze blowing down the back straightaway.
Then, when the moment was right, he put his strength on display by running down Lalang to win the heat.
"I feel like I've got a good hold on what you need to do out front and then kick off of that," Finnerty said of his confidence in running up front.
"I think a lot of these guys are guys that have gotten into the 1500 because they have this great change of gears," he added. "Not in a bad way, but I think I've been pigeonholed into this event because we've got a team of 5K and 10K guys and we need somebody in the 1500.
"I think I've just had to develop my own style of racing because of that."
Qualifying for the NCAA championships is always in style, and it's something Finnerty has been striving for since joining the Badgers as a heralded high school miler.
Now, after putting together strong performances in back-to-back races, Finnerty has eyes on doing more than just showing up in Des Moines.
"I think heading into NCAAs," he said, "this is going to give me a lot of confidence going forward."
3:50 p.m.Margin slim, but reward great for Badgers' Block
For all intents in purposes, there is no difference between finishing first and finishing 12th at the 2012 NCAA West Preliminary Round.
There are no trophies for the winners, who instead enjoy the same reward as everyone else among the top dozen finishers -- an opportunity to compete for hardware in two weeks at the NCAA outdoor championships.
That's why Wisconsin's Dan Block walked away a winner Saturday after scoring a 12th-place finish in the men's discus. Thanks to the razor-thin margin by which he earned his first NCAA championships trip, however, Block celebrated simply by exhaling.
The sophomore posted a mark of 185 feet, 11 inches on his second-to-last throw, jumping Iowa's Gabe Hull for the final qualifying spot by just two centimeters.
"It wasn't a good feeling. I wish I would have just thrown farther, but I'll take it," Block said. "All week going into the meet I said I didn't care if I got 12th or first, but it would have been nice to be first and not have to worry about it."
Block and Hull's marks were so close that, when converted from their metric measurements, both equated to 185-11.
"Two centimeters," Block said. "Gabe Hull is a true freshman out of Iowa and he really stepped up."
Block was well aware of the distance from the 13th position he occupied after four rounds of throws and where Hull stood in 12th.
"I was aware, I just didn't want to think about it because it was making me too nervous," Block said. "This is more nervous than I've ever been, and I've been in some pretty big meets."
In addition to his own anxiety, another day of windy conditions inside Mike A. Myers Stadium was something Block -- and his competition -- had to contend with. Much as it did in the women's competition Friday, a stiff breeze blew straight down the throwing sector and into the competitors' faces.
"If you ask an excellent discus thrower they're going to say that's a great wind," Block said. "But I think the way it comes off the end of the stadium, it gets really strong up high.
"If you put (the disc) up high, it's just going to push it right back."
That was the case with redshirt freshman Alex Thompson's three attempts in his flight of the trials. Thompson finished 31st overall at 169-1.
That the Big Ten champion could throw just short of 186 feet and barely make the cut spoke to the quality of the competition at the West Region's preliminary-round site. Had he been competing at the East Region site in Jacksonville, Fla., Block's mark of 185-11 would have been good for fourth place.
"It was pretty incredible," Block said. "Everybody showed up today."
We're back with updates throughout the second day of the 2012 NCAA West Preliminary Round in Austin, Texas, as the Badgers chase the opportunity to advance to next month's NCAA outdoor championships.
10:20 p.m.Freshman Mudd marches on, secures second NCAA berth
Austin Mudd didn't have to beat them in order to join them.
The Wisconsin freshman executed a strong race in the quarterfinals of the men's 800 meters at the 2012 NCAA West Preliminary Round, hitching himself to UC Irvine's Charles Jock and UC Santa Barbara's Ryan Martin and letting the national leaders guide him to an NCAA championships berth.
Mudd ran third throughout the two-lap race, exactly where he needed to be to secure one of the three automatic qualifying spots for next month's national meet.
"Jock and Martin were in front of me the whole time and I was keying off them," Mudd said. "I was just trying to stay a few meters back from them and then kick it in and close the gap a little at the finish line.
"It was pretty much a given that they were going to go 1 and 2, so I just had to stay in contact with them and not let anyone pass me on that last stretch."
His close over the final 100 meters resulted in a time of 1:48.32 and assured him of a second NCAA championships berth in his rookie season. Mudd also ran on UW's distance medley relay team at the NCAA indoor championships in March.
"It was definitely a good experience to race the top two guys in the nation," Mudd said. "I definitely built up a lot of confidence."
It's something he can use as he looks to notch another goal off his list when he toes the line in a semifinal race at Drake Stadium in Des Moines, Iowa.
"I still have some pretty big goals for nationals," Mudd said. "I'm not going to take it lightly.
"I don't think All-American is out of the question, and that would be awesome as a freshman.
"I'm looking forward to the race."
7:50 p.m.Jakutyte refuses to let history repeat itself
Faced with a familiar situation, Monika Jakutyte refused to let history repeat itself.
Whether or not the senior's career at Wisconsin would continue largely hinged on successfully clearing her third and final attempt at 5 feet, 10 3/4 inches at the 2012 NCAA West Preliminary Round.
The scenario was too similar to the one that brought her sophomore season to a close on the same infield at Mike A. Myers Stadium in Austin, Texas, in 2010. Then, Jakutyte finished 13th and missed a berth in the NCAA outdoor championships by a single finishing position. The difference was a single miss.
She wrote a different story on Friday.
After a pair of misses at 5-10 3/4 -- the second of which coming by the narrowest of margins -- Jakutyte came through in the clutch and cleared the bar to cement a top-12 finish and a trip to next month's NCAA outdoor championships.
"Going into the third attempt I was thinking, 'No way,'" Jakutyte said. "Two years ago I was 13th here by one miss and I was not going to let that happen again.
"That was my motivation."
That Jakutyte used her narrow miss as motivation rather than a source of added pressure on her final attempt was key. Another memory helped put the close call in perspective.
"I knew I was super close," Jakutyte said of her second attempt. "The same thing happened at Big Tens. I jumped up, I hit (the bar) with my shoulders and I knew I'd hit it.
"But then everybody started cheering and I was thinking, 'Why are you cheering?' and then I see the bar stayed on.
"The same thing happened this time. I hit it with my shoulders and then I brought my hips over and my legs over, but (the bar) sat there and then fell in slow motion."
Rather than be discouraged, Jakutyte prepared to make the most of her final opportunity.
"It was my third bar, I knew I was close, I knew I wanted to go and I knew I was not going to get left behind like I did two years ago," she said. "I think everything added up."
4:40 p.m.Card rides wind to NCAA championships
On one hand, Kelsey Card was disappointed. On the other, she's excited about what falling short in one event means now that she's exceeded expectations in another.
A day after she missed out on advancing in the shot put, the Wisconsin freshman earned the right to move on to the 2012 NCAA Outdoor Championships in the discus with a ninth-place finish Friday at the NCAA West Preliminary Round.
She became the sixth UW woman to qualify for the national meet, which is set for June 6-9 in Des Moines, Iowa.
The silver lining in not advancing in the shot put? Card can spend the next two weeks focused exclusively on honing her skills in the discus.
"Ideally, I would have liked to make it in both," Card said, "but I'm grateful that I get to go. In one way, I guess it will be nice because you always do better when you focus on one thing."
Card made the most of warm and windy conditions to emerge from a competition that lasted just shy of five hours.
While fellow competitors struggled with the wind blowing into their faces, Card unleashed a throw of 171 feet, 11 inches on the second of three attempts in her flight of the trials. It was enough to get her through to the final round of throws as the No. 9 qualifier, a spot she held onto over the final three attempts.
"It was ugly," Card said of the gusty conditions. "I ended up doing alright in my flight, but it was still kind of a struggle.
"For a lot of people it was terrible. In this last flight (the finals), it nailed you like crazy and several girls ended up with three fouls because of the wind."
The other bright spot for Card is that teammate Taylor Smith -- who failed to qualify Friday after a pair of sector fouls and an intentional foot foul after a short throw on her final attempt -- will be alongside her in Des Moines after advancing Thursday in the shot put.
"It's nice," Card said. "It's always good to have someone there to talk to and to support you. We can cheer for each other, and that's nice, too."
It's a familiar situation for the duo, though with reversed roles. Card finished sixth in the shot put at the NCAA indoor championships to earn All-America honors, while Smith was an indoor qualifier in the weight throw.
"Having already been there, it's nice to know how it all works," Card said of qualifying for both NCAA meets as a freshman. "Outdoors will be different because it's on a bigger scale, but it will be nice to be familiar with it."
We'll be providing updates throughout the opening day of the 2012 NCAA West Preliminary Round in Austin, Texas, as the Badgers chase the opportunity to advance to next month's NCAA outdoor championships.
For more immediate updates:
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Being prepared for move has Krause moving on
By responding well to something he'd seen before, Elliot Krause is headed somewhere he's never been.
The Wisconsin junior anticipated the move that was coming midway through the men's 10,000 meters at the NCAA Preliminary Round and responded with a performance over the closing laps that has him headed to the NCAA outdoor championships for the first time.
Krause clocked in at 30:16.61 for 10th place, while teammate Ryan Collins missed out on an NCAA berth by the narrowest of margins. He came home 13th in a race that sends its top 12 finishers to the national meet.
With a massive, 48-man field running in a single heat, a danger exists for runners who drift back in the pack to get left behind when the leaders decide to pick up the pace. It's something Krause has been on the short end of before -- and something he leaned on his experience to help avoid Thursday.
"I've gotten caught back there before," Krause said. "That's why today I stayed right there to make sure that once there was a move I was going to be able to go with it."
Last year, the season leader at 10,000 meters missed out on an NCAA berth because he lost touch with the front runners at the preliminary round.
"I got caught behind that move and I was able to go with it last year but it's just a lot tougher to move around a lot of people and then hang right on the back," he said. "So this year I put a real main focus on making sure I was ready to be right in the middle of that move when it went."
This time, "the move" when Oregon's Luke Puskedra kicked up the pace with 12 laps remaining in the 25-lap race that had started very slowly.
"When we're running that slow at the start of the race I knew it was going to pick up at some point, so I was just trying to get ready for it," Krause said. "We went and everything kind of single-filed out for two or three laps, and then there was another move where I think five guys or so broke away.
"That second move I couldn't really go with, but I made sure I hopped on that first move."
That was enough to keep Krause among the all-important top dozen, although he did employ a healthy kick over the final 200 meters to secure his spot.
"Two and a half months ago I was definitely not expecting to kick my way into nationals," he said. "It's a little bit of a surprise."
Harper ready to make most of opportunity
Brittney Harper had just enough to get there, but there's no doubt she'll be more than ready.
Harper is moving on in the women's 800 meters at the NCAA West Preliminary Round by the slimmest of margins, picking up the 27th and final qualifying spot for Friday's quarterfinals by running a time of 2:08.93.
She finished fifth in her heat, outside the top three that automatically advanced -- and fell into the group of athletes that would advance -- or not -- based on their finishing times.
It appeared to be no problem in the early stages of the race, with Harper looking strong and running just a stride behind the leader in second. Her hopes faded a bit, however, when she approached the 200-meters-to-go mark.
"I felt really strong for the first part of the race, but then at the last backstretch I started cramping in my right calf and then I kind of pulled back a little bit," she said. "A couple girls passed me and I started getting nervous, so I was like, 'OK, I can't just let this calf get to me.'
"I made the last attempt at the end, and I'm glad I did, because I made it."
In the end, the time was enough to keep Harper's season moving. That's something she couldn't be happier about.
"I'm excited," she said. "I want to go into it hopefully the same way I was at the beginning of the race (today); being up in front."
"Hopefully the calf won't get in the way of this next race and I can place even better with a better time than I did today."
Mudd runs down NCAA leader, quarterfinal berth
Austin Mudd knew their names going into the race. After running against some of the nation's top-ranked athletes, Mudd learned even more -- that he can run with them.
The Wisconsin freshman earned a berth in Friday's quarterfinal in the men's 800 meters at the 2012 NCAA West Preliminary Round, scoring a runner-up finish in his heat in a time of 1:49.76.
The time got him into the next round -- and one race away from an NCAA championships ticket -- but the way in which he achieved it turned some heads.
With what is becoming a characteristic late-race kick, Mudd closed on the lead down the final 100 meters of the race and reeled in Charles Jock of UC Irvine, the NCAA leader at 800 meters.
Mudd finished alongside the senior and was briefly given credit for winning the heat before official timing showed him to be just three-hundredths of a second slower than Jock.
The performance meant an automatic spot in the quarterfinals, but it also meant a little more to Mudd.
"It's a confidence-builder," Mudd said. "I was kicking, I was going all-out and I was inching ahead of everyone a little bit, so that defintely helps my confidence coming down the homestretch."
Mudd faced a difficult question in whether to run the 800 meters or 1500 meters at the preliminary round, as he boasted strong national marks in both events. Thursday, he learned that he and assistant coach Mick Byrne made the right call by choosing the 800.
"I learned to not psych myself out or think about the race too much," Mudd said of the race. "I was three-hundredths of a second behind (Charles) Jock, the NCAA leader. I just need to remind myself that I can run with these guys and put that to work out on the track."
Blyholder's first NCAA appearance is extended
Wisconsin's Liga Blyholder likes NCAA championships competition enough that she plans to stick around for a couple more days.
Despite some anxious moments, the sophomore's bubble didn't burst Thursday. In the end, her time of 4:29.76 at the NCAA West Preliminary Round was enough to secure the final qualifying spot for Saturday's quarterfinal round in the women's 1500 meters.
"I thought I was done," Blyholder said. "I definitely didn't run the race I wanted to and, after finishing, I thought I was done.
"I went on my cool-down and then went back and checked my phone and realized that I was actually in and took the last spot."
Blyholder ran in the first of four heats and crossed the line sixth -- one spot shy of the all-important top five that automatically earned the right to advance. Instead, she was forced to wait through the next three sections to see if her time would stand as one of the four fastest non-automatic marks.
In the end, it did.
Several athletes ran slower times -- including four over 4:30 -- but Blyholder went down as qualifier No. 24 out of 24 as the holder of the fourth-fastest non-automatic qualifying mark.
"I wasn't happy with my race and I didn't want to end my season that way," Blyholder said, "so to get a second chance to run and another chance to make nationals is great."
Regardless of how narrow the margin, she will race for an NCAA championships berth on Saturday knowing she's capable of matching the 4:19.65 she turned in to finish fifth at the Big Ten championships.
"It's definitely a learning experience," Blyholder said. "I'm still trying to get used to collegiate running and how to stay calm in competition like this."
"I learned a lot from the race."
Different approach, same result for Finnerty and Connor
One led from the start, one tried desperately to get to the front -- and both will be racing again on Saturday at the NCAA West Preliminary Round.
Junior Rob Finnerty looked confident and in control as he paced the opening heat of the men's 1500 meters on his way to winning the opening section in 3:45.98 to automatically advance and set the tone for the event.
Sophomore Reed Connor, on the other hand, had to turn to his trademark -- the open-handed arm pumping known among the Badgers simply as "The Blades" -- to finish sixth in his heat and eek out a qualifying spot based on his time of 3:50.55.
In the end, the result was the same. Both Badgers will look to race their way on to the NCAA outdoor championships in Saturday's quarterfinal round.
"I didn't want to screw around and I knew there weren't five guys in that field that could beat me if I ran my race," Finnerty said. "It worked."
The top five finishers in each of the four first-round heats advanced to the quarterfinals automatically. After, the next best four times moved on.
That's where Connor came in.
"I'm running the 1500 now, so I decided I'd try to run like a 1500-meter guy," joked Connor, a middle-distance convert who was the Big Ten champion at 5000 meters last year. "That isn't really my true race, and I learned out there today that I have to go for the strength side of that 1500."
While Finnerty quickly turned his attention to what comes next -- "It was just about taking care of business today," he said -- Connor considered his close call as a beneficial lesson.
"As confident as I am in 'The Blades' they can only do so much in this kind of race," he said. "I have to come out here on Saturday and run a strong race from the front and then rely on 'The Blades' after that.
"Racing 1500 meters is different in the championship style and I'm learing a lot," he added. "I've got to keep on learning or the season's going to be over real quick."
Plank, Bughman miss cut in 400 hurdles
The Badgers' duo of junior Grant Bughman and senior Patrick Plank fell just short of advancing through the preliminary round in the 400-meter hurdles.
The pair ran nearly identical times -- a 52.73 for Bughman out of Heat 5 and a 52.76 for Plank in Heat 6 -- but ended up about two-tenths of a second short.
Bughman was 31st overall, with Plank finishing 32nd. The top 27 advanced on to the national quarterfinal on Friday.
Both have battled injuries, with Bughman sidelined for most of the 2011 outdoor season and slowed in this year's indoor campaign, while Plank was running on an injured hamstring suffered two weeks ago during the 4x100 relay at the Big Ten championships.
Smith becomes first Badger to advance
Taylor Smith wasted little time in becoming the Badgers' first qualifier out of the NCAA West Preliminary Round.
Smith threw 53 feet, 2 1/4 inches to score a ninth-place finish in the women's shot put -- a mark the junior hit on the second of her three first-round throws.
Her teammate, Kelsey Card, also advanced to the final round but finished 16th at 51-4 1/2 -- with the top 12 finishers advancing to next month's NCAA championships in Des Moines, Iowa. Junior Jasmine Boyer finished 25th with a mark of 49-2 1/2.
Getting the big mark out of the way early was a relief for Smith, who knew she had done enough to advance and could cruise through her three final-round throws with no pressure.
"It was really nice," Smith said. "It was getting really hot and I'm pretty tired and hungry, so it was good to get it done."
The League City, Texas, native is no stranger to the mid-90s heat that competitors faced on the first afternoon of competition in Austin. Still, it added another element of challenge for some of the first competitors to take the field at Mike A. Myers Stadium.
"I guess because I grew up here I'm supposed to be used to it, but you never get used to the heat," Smith said. "It's still pretty tough."
The shot put was the first of two events for Smith, who also will compete in the discus at 11 a.m. Friday. Successfully navigating the first is something Smith hopes will help her in her second competition of the week.
"It's a little bit easier and less stressful now," Smith said. "When I overthink, nothing goes well, so I'm just going in relaxed and looking to do what I need to do to get to nationals."
A year ago, UW men's track coach Ed Nuttycombe and women's coach Jim Stintzi were thrown for a loss when their "throwers'' fell short of expectations in the Big Ten outdoor championships.
Both are confident that Dan Block and Taylor Smith have learned something from that experience and will put their painfully acquired knowledge to good use this weekend in the field events.
"It's the proverbial saying,'' Nuttycombe said, "you learn more from trying situations - from tough situations - than you do from other situations. I think that's absolutely the case with Dan.
"It was very uncharacteristic of him to not perform at that big setting (fifth outdoors in the shot put). I don't think there's any way that he will let that happen again. He'll be ready.
"His co-hort in the discus - Alex Thompson - will be ready to go, too. He has really come along and he's a big-time meet type of guy who has done well at international junior settings.
"Hopefully, we'll get a Top Three or Top Four in each one of those events (shot put and discus). That will be a good day. Maybe one or the other does better, and we'll see a surprise in one, or both.''
Stintzi has outlined similar objectives for Taylor Smith and Kelsey Card in those events.
"I think the last couple of Big Ten meets, we've had throwers that have put a little bit too much pressure on themselves,'' Stintzi said. "Our motto is, 'This meet is no different than any other meet.'
"We can't approach it like it's the end of the world.''
The results this spring have encouraged Stintzi. "One of the things we're seeing is steady improvements in the throws,'' he said. "We're hitting our peak at the right time.''
How might the throws factor into the team competition for the men and women?
"Big at this meet,'' Stintzi said. "As a matter of fact, you don't want to say one area is going to matter more than another - but for both of our teams, it's just the direction that we've gone.
"Throws matter a lot to us. Ironically, everyone in the Big Ten got this idea at the same time and everybody is good at the same time.''
Nuttycombe cited an example.
"If you look at the rankings,'' he said, "I think the Big Ten has the vast majority of the best throwers in the entire western region of the country in the discus. It's super competitive.''
UW assistant coach Dave Astrauskas has seen a developing trend in the talent pool from the standpoint "throwers from the Midwest used to go to the coast, now they're staying in the Big Ten.''
"Last year at the junior championships,'' he went on, "it was dominated by kids who were already in the Big Ten and going to the Big Ten. So it's only going to get better.''
What are Astrauskas' expectations for his throwers in the Big Ten meet?
"I'm just expecting them to do what they've been doing all year and that's to throw well and throw near their competitive average,'' he said. "That's all I'm asking of them.''
Nuttycombe figures if the Badgers can maintain their status quo that they will be in the hunt. "But we have to hit on the events that we're ranked high in,'' he said, "and hope that's enough.''
The shot put and discus would qualify in Nuttycombe's context.
"I think Dan Block is going to throw well in both,'' he said. "He's coming on at the right time.''
In this week's blog, head coach Yvette Healy talks about the final week of the regular season and what the biggest question is for the Badgers this week.
It's exciting to enter into the final weekend of regular season play for the Wisconsin softball team. We hit the road for Nebraska on Thursday. We're currently 33-17, with a 12-8 Big Ten record, which ties us for 4th place with Nebraska. This is a huge weekend for the Badger softball program. We're a top-50 program right now, on the bubble for making our first NCAA tournament appearance since 2005.
Nebraska has always been a great softball program. The Cornhuskers have made 21 NCAA tournament appearances and seven trips to the Women's College World series. With their 13-0 record at home, we know we'll have our work cut out for us on this trip. The exciting thing is, it's May and we still have a shot at the post-season. Being a life-long Chicago Cubs fan, there haven't been many October's when we're still cheering for the Cubs. It's fun to have so much to play for during our last regular season weekend.
What a great season we've had in 2012. We've broken a lot of offensive records, and put together a few record-breaking win streaks at home and throughout the season. Our challenge is to take the program to the next level, and create a national presence. The biggest question for the Badgers softball team is when. When do we turn that corner? When do we start putting up big wins over legacy programs? When can we get the big wins, against the best teams, when it counts the most?
Everything is coming right down to the wire, with two games Friday night and our last regular season game on Saturday. How we do this weekend will have a big impact, as we wait for the NCAA tournament selection show Sunday night at 9 p.m.
What a great opportunity for this young team to experience in May!
On the 10th-anniversary of Wisconsin's dramatic, come-from-behind Big Ten men's outdoor track and field championship in Madison, coach Ed Nuttycombe had a snap shot in mind - "I still remember it vividly" he said - that matched a cherished photograph on his office desk at Kellner Hall.
Pictured are Isaiah Festa, Matt Tegenkamp, Josh Spiker and Nick Winkel following the 5,000 meters, the second-to-last track event on the final day of the meet. Because the Badgers trailed first-place Minnesota by 24 points going into the 5K, they almost didn't get a chance to run the race; the story within the story.
"It was very memorable," Nuttycombe said.
It was one of his most memorable Big Ten titles, he confided.
That covers a lot of ground (28 years) and championships (24).
But the final round didn't start out very memorable in the 2002 meet.
The Badgers had an early lead in the 400 relay but had to settle for third after a botched exchange. In the very next event - the 1,500 meters - Spiker was running third behind Michigan's Alan Webb and Indiana's John Jefferson when he stumbled and fell about 30 meters from the finish line. He ended up seventh.
Given this backdrop, Wisconsin looked like a long shot to catch the Gophers, although the Badgers had shown their resiliency the year before. In the 2001 Big Ten outdoor meet in Bloomington, Ind., they rallied past Ohio State, 135-117.5, for the team crown despite winning just two individual titles.
T.J. Nelson won the 110-meter hurdles and automatically qualified for nationals by running the third fastest time (13.49 seconds) in the country, while Festa outdistanced Ohio State's Rob Myers down the stretch to win the 1,500 meters. Festa also took a second and Jason Vanderhoof a third in the 5,000.
Clinching the overall title - the UW's fifth outdoors in seven years - on the strength of Festa and Vanderhoof combining for 14 points in a clutch situation, Nuttycombe said afterward, "Our 5,000- meter guys ran with a lot of heart."
Remember those words because they would resonate again in the very same event at the 2002 Big Ten meet on the McClimon Track; the last time that the UW played host to the outdoor track and field championships in Madison.
All the Badgers needed was a spark, according to Nuttycombe, to help reverse the momentum generated by Minnesota, which had been the only league program outside of Wisconsin to win outdoor titles since 1995. (The Badgers, in fact, were trying to pull off their second three-peat over an eight-year span.)
In order to put some pressure on the Gophers, the 1998 and 1999 team champion, someone had to "step up" and that's exactly what happened with Jon Mungen winning the 110 high hurdles and B.J. Tucker taking second in the 100. Len Herring also produced some valuable points with a second in the triple jump.
The real catalyst, though, was freshman Dan Murray who came out of the pack - fourth place - over the final 200 meters to win the 800. Murray not only set a track record (1:48.2), but posted a provisional NCAA qualifying mark. In the process, he seemed to inspire his teammates.
But the math still didn't add up.
Minnesota had the team lead - 135-110.5 - over Wisconsin.
Going into the 5,000-meters, Nuttycombe admitted, "We considered pulling some of the better guys out of the race to save their legs for nationals. We didn't want to extend them if there was no need to, and we told them that."
Nuttycombe and Jerry Schumacher, then the cross country and distance coach, merely attempted to paint a realistic picture for their 5K racers.
"After we told them what we were considering," Nuttycombe said, "they go, 'No way. We're not going to let you do that.'"
What followed was another reality check from Nuttycombe.
"Guys, we've got to do almost the impossible (to catch Minnesota)."
They responded by asking, "What do we need to do?"
"We need to go one, two, three, four in the 5,000."
"Coach, we're going to do it."
Festa and Tegenkamp went out and finished one-two in the 5,000, while Spiker was fourth and Winkel was fifth. That was close enough to fulfilling Nuttycombe's challenge, and good enough to pick up 27 points in the event.
Then it came down to the final event, the 4 x 400-meter relay. Minnesota was the top seed and Nuttycombe instructed his runners, "If you can't win, you can't allow more than one team between us and them (the Gophs)."
Actually, the Badgers could have finished lower than third and still won the meet but Nuttycombe was determined to pull out all stops in motivating his relay team: Jvontai Hanserd, Ricardo Rodriguez, Gustin Smith and Jabari Pride.
"We chased Minnesota around the track," Nuttycombe recounted fondly.
The Badgers finished second in the relay, and won the outdoor title.
"It was very memorable, not only for winning," Nuttycombe said.
But it was memorable, he observed, for not throwing in the towel on the 5,000 meters; memorable for not underestimating Festa, Tegenkamp, Spiker and Winkel; memorable for not denying them an opportunity to race.
Nuttycombe is reminded of that moment every day. "There's that picture right on my desk - one of my favorite pictures - of those four guys with their arms around each other right after the finish," he said. "That was awesome."
A 10-year anniversary worth celebrating this weekend in Madison.
The Wisconsin men's track and field team rose in the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association's rankings for the third week in a row with the release of the latest rankings on Tuesday, moving up to No. 15 in the country.
Ranked No. 17 in last week's poll, UW moved up two spots in the rankings and has now climbed six spots over the last three weeks.
UW continues to exceed its No. 19 preseason ranking and has yet to be ranked lower than No. 25 nationally this season.
Wisconsin also increased its lead atop the USTFCCCA Great Lakes Region rankings, holding a score of 954.74 points this week, while No. 2-ranked Indiana has 781.29 points in the regional index.
So far this season, the Badgers have held the top spot in the Great Lakes for four of the six possible weeks.
Wisconsin hosts this weekend's 2012 Big Ten Outdoor Championships this weekend and welcomes four other conference teams ranked in the USTFCCCA top 25.
Indiana remained the highest ranked Big Ten team at No. 8, while Nebraska sits at No. 17, Iowa ranks No. 21 and Minnesota rounds out the list at No. 25.
Including those ranked in the top 25, a total of eight Big Ten teams rank in the top 50 of the USTFCCCA national rankings.
A spring football intrasquad game often takes on the appearance of a "futures" game - similar in some respects to what is staged during the All-Star break by Major League Baseball.
Instead of a collection of minor league all-stars, you are treated to a number of freshmen - from the recruiting class of 2011 - that redshirted last fall and functioned in anonymity on the scout team.
Some of these redshirts carried higher profiles into spring practice than others, most notably quarterback Joel Stave and tailback Melvin Gordon, who was coming off a medical redshirt.
Stave and Gordon distinguished themselves in last Saturday's scrimmage at Camp Randall.
Two other redshirts are less recognizable but distinguishable by their football DNA.
No. 41, Jesse Hayes, is the son of Jay Hayes, a former UW assistant under Barry Alvarez and the defensive line coach of the Cincinnati Bengals.
No. 99, James Adeyanju, is the brother of Victor Adeyanju, the former Indiana Hoosiers defensive end and fourth-round pick of the St. Louis Rams.
Both are defensive ends. Neither is quite ready for prime-time.
"Two springs from now," said UW coach Bret Bielema, "I can see them being dominant players."
Defensive line coach Charlie Partridge could see them contributing sooner than later.
"I would not put them in the top three or four defensive ends right now," Partridge said. "But if they have a great summer and they come into training camp at a high level, they could climb into it."
If you were to grade that position group this spring, Partridge pointed out, you would have to give it an "incomplete" because of the absence of David Gilbert, who's recovering from foot injuries.
"We know what David can do and bring," Bielema said.
Gilbert can bring pressure; he can be one of the better edge rushers in the Big Ten.
"I'm also excited about Brendan Kelly," Bielema added.
After Gilbert was injured last season, Kelly took over at defensive end opposite Louis Nzegwu.
Kelly got eight starts and Pat Muldoon got two.
Gilbert, Kelly and Muldoon are UW's top three defensive ends.
"There's a separation after them," Partridge admitted.
Konrad Zagzebski, a redshirt sophomore, has yet to rise to that level because of injuries.
However, he has drawn some attention to himself with his jersey number, No. 74.
That once belonged to UW rush end Tom Burke, an All-American.
While not in that class - few are - Zagzebski has made a favorable impression.
Based on what he showed this spring, Partridge said, "Zags continues to get better."
That also holds true for Hayes and Adeyanju.
"I was really excited about the progress that they made in the last week of spring ball," Partridge said. "Without question, they are a ways off. But they're getting better and learning the game.
"There's so much fundamentally that you have to be good at to play at this level. There's just a lot that goes into being a full-time defensive player; mentally and certainly physically."
Bielema has gotten a glimpse of what they can do, and he likes their promise.
From a technical standpoint, Bielema said, "Jesse (Hayes) keeps his play-side hand and leg free as good as anyone I've ever seen. He's very athletic."
Very undersized, too, though he's getting bigger. Hayes reported at 220 pounds.
"When I came in, I looked like a receiver," he conceded.
Hayes has gotten his weight up to 250 pounds. He'd like to play at 260 or 265.
Adeyanju is also carrying around 250 after putting on 20 pounds since last August.
"I want to retain my speed and quickness while I build muscle," he said.
Lining up opposite Ricky Wagner and Josh Oglesby was an education for Adeyanju.
"It made me so much better," he said. "I really appreciated going against those guys."
While on the scout teams, Hayes not only learned from battling the offensive tackles, but he learned from watching former UW quarterback Russell Wilson handle his business, on and off the field.
"I liked the way he carried himself," he said. "He was someone to look up to."
In the end, the Badgers don't have to accelerate the learning curve with Hayes and Adeyanju.
They can afford to be patient, and wait.
"I don't know how much they will help us," Bielema said, "especially with David coming back."
But he wouldn't rule them out, either; he never rules out anyone if they can show they can play.
And they will both get that chance in training camp. "All it takes is hard work,'' Hayes said.
There have been mornings when UW softball coach Yvette Healy has arrived to work at Camp Randall Stadium only to find some of her players working out in the weight room or running stairs.
To see them working overtime on their own -- to see them doing all the little things that are important to stability and success -- is a sign to Healy that her second-year program is arriving.
"It's great to see softball starting to take a lead from what women's hockey has done and some of the other great programs here have done as far as putting in all that extra work,'' Healy said.
"Some players thought they were working hard and didn't really know what it feels like to work hard at a BCS-level program, so they've kicked it into gear.
"It's a culture thing. You don't want it to be just one or two kids who are taking it seriously and are emotionally invested. You want it to be everybody -- but we're getting there.
"We still have some who are in the phase where the light bulb is turning on. We'll arrive as a program when our entire roster, from top to bottom, has that sense of urgency for 12 months.''
The Badgers have made positive strides in that direction on the diamond by playing themselves into contention for a Big Ten championship and an NCAA tournament bid.
"It's exciting in the month of May for this program to be in the hunt (for a league title),'' Healy said. "That we're in the conversation is already a huge step for the program.''
Especially when you consider the company that they're keeping; the Badgers are within striking distance of first-place Michigan in the Big Ten standings.
On being in such rarified air -- with the Wolverines here for a doubleheader Saturday and a single game Sunday -- Healy has instructed her players to "embrace it, enjoy it; we're the underdogs.''
Perspective is not lacking.
"We just talked to the players about how Michigan has everything to lose here,'' she noted.
Wisconsin has never beaten Michigan in Madison.
"They've got all the history, they've got all the Big Ten championships,'' Healy said of the No. 23-ranked Wolverines, the NCAA champion in 2005. "They're a Goliath in the softball world.
"We realize that we're going against the best at the toughest time of the year. Still, we're excited to play them at home in front of all our fans on a big stage when it counts.''
Healy is undaunted by the challenge of facing Michigan and Nebraska on back-to-back weekends, even though the Badgers must travel to Lincoln, where the Cornhuskers are 13-0 this season.
"As a staff, it's exactly what we want,'' she said. "A lot of people would like to face some of the teams that are struggling. But you want to face the best if you really want to build a program.''
The first stage in the building process took place last season and extended to the off-season.
"We had some tough meetings with some players at the end of last year,'' Healy said. "They needed to make huge strides in terms of getting stronger, working harder and putting more time in.''
Among those players, Healy said, was Whitney Massey.
"That kid has made more strides than anyone,'' she said proudly of Massey's improvement. "She's done a nice job hitting out of the three hole and bringing a solid, left-handed bat to the line-up.''
Another player who has "stepped up her game'' has been Michelle Mueller.
"For as strong as she is, she didn't have any power numbers last year,'' Healy said. "But you could tell she was in the batting cage all summer. She's got a baseball family and she's a cage rat.''
Not unlike a "gym rat.'' There have been others who have responded in like fashion.
"You watch them play,'' Healy said, "and you know that they have lived it (softball) all summer long and all winter long; they've been in the weight room and in the cages and it's starting to show.''
Healy didn't pull any punches in her end-of-the-year meetings with individuals.
"Young players sometimes think you're just there to say all the nice things and cheer for them,'' she said. "But we have to be some of the most honest people in their lives.
"We tell them, 'Here's what you're doing well, here's where you're not cutting it. This is the expectation.' They really took it well. We kept it positive. Reality hurts some time; the truth hurts.''
Healy resisted the "no pain, no gain'' cliché, but she made her point.
So has her team so far this season. But an exclamation point is still missing.
"Beating a Top-25 team is the next step that you have to take,'' Healy said.